Meta-crisis and Anthropocene
We don’t face an ecological crisis of climate change, species extinction, and ocean acidification. We don’t face a psychological and spiritual crisis of disconnection, depression, and meaninglessness. We don’t face a cultural crisis of community loss, inequality, and a war on sense-making. We don’t face a crisis in government, economics, and finance. Although it is all of these, the crises we face can’t be reduced to any one of these. Instead, we face a single phenomena, a meta-crisis.
The meta-crisis is, what Timothy Morton calls, a hyper object: spread across space and time, impossible to grasp the whole. It is the result of complex interactions between social, political, technological, infrastructural, and economic systems, and habituated forms of knowing, being, and acting rooted in a sense of separation, the desire to control, dominate, exploit, and consume life. These forms are a signifier of the Anthropocene, an epoch that has turned humankind into a geological agent with its fundamental and irreversible human imprint and impact on natural systems. Increasingly, research from various disciplines roots the anthropocentric meta-crisis in the ways humans relate to other humans and the wider non-human Earth community, which is characterized by dominating, controlling, and instrumental forms of relating in the world, accompanied by growing exploitation and destruction of life.
A transformation towards the Ecocene, as a regenerative epoch, might offer ways out of the meta-crisis. The Ecocene aims to reintegrate humans psychologically and technologically, into nature and natural systems and establishes a mutually enhancing, reciprocal, and caring mode of human-Earth relations along with a niche that is beneficial both for humans and non-humans. It’s a turn from the antibiotic to the probiotic, life-affirming mode of operating. The Ecocene is relational in nature and situates the human within the horizon of emergent, interdependent life rather than as the vanguard of evolution or a species apart from nature. The aim is not to go back to pre-industrial modes of existing, but instead to integrate pre-industrial modes into post-anthropocentric, contemporary socioecological realities, creating conditions conducive to life. With this, the Ecocene is an epoch of integration: it’s a big yes to merge the best out of premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism, out of the Holocene and Anthropocene, and out of the human and non-human.
Yet, to transition towards the Ecocene, we have to better understand who and what we are, individually and collectively, to be able to fundamentally change how we act. The aim of my upcoming project, which starts April 8th and lasts 108days, is, therefore, an exploration of how to live in the Ecocene. To do that, I will explore three particular threats, that I will tie together in various knots and bows. These are fasting, fungi, and fractals. The reason why I chose these three threads is that they address the greatest challenges to moving towards the Ecocene: overconsumption, disconnection (or the inability to live in right relation to humans and non-humans), and a lack of responsibility / response(-ability). I sense that various knots will emerge out of these three threats, without being able to grasp yet, how they intra-act specifically.
In the following, I will briefly explain what I mean by each of these, why, and how I will engage with them.
One key driver of the Anthropocene is the endless pursuit of more. We seem to be caught in what Gabor Maté calls The Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Hungry ghosts are the demon-like creatures described in Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain texts as the remnants of the dead who are afflicted with insatiable desire, hunger, or thirst. We can’t seem to get enough. At the same time, the idea of living with less is often equated with renunciation, lack of joy, and asceticism. I have often found myself aspiring to live with less while wanting more. As there is no other way but to live with less, if we want to move towards the Ecocene, the key question I want to explore is if and how I can adapt my mindset in a way that sufficiency becomes pleasurable? To do that, I will adapt a modified fast, referred to by Valter Longo as a fasting-mimicking practice. I will also wear one and the same dress every day.
Both of these practices are not new to me, so I am aware of what I am getting myself into. I also chose these two, because, for me, they are the most challenging facets of my life in regards to overconsumption, and hence, I hope to get the best insights. As I will describe in more detail throughout the project, I see both — fashion and food — as ideal gateways to engage with the world in a regenerative, probiotic way.
Systems science caught up with indigenous wisdom and shows that the state of the system depends predominantly on the relationships within the system. For example, the form of a crystal is determined by the way the molecules prefer to bond, it might be at a 60degree angle, and it might be at a 20degree angle. Changing relationships thus has the biggest possible impact on changing the state of the system. As mentioned in the introduction, the Anthropocene is characterized by dominating, controlling, and instrumental forms of relating.
Fungi can live in symbiotic and reciprocal relationships with other species. Some even argue that they are a key… The key question for me is, therefore, what we can learn from fungi about how to relate to other humans and non-humans? To do that, I will learn about the way of the fungi through increasing my, as John Vervaeke says, propositional knowledge, which is knowing the map, and also engaging in the territory through fermenting, growing fungi, and nature practices, such as nature walks to engage with fungi. Based on the idea of biomimicry, I will translate the learnings into what that might mean for human relationships.
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. They are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. To transition towards the Ecocene, understanding how our individual patterns relate to the whole to take adequate action and responsibility is a key driver.
I sympathize with the idea that relational patterns, such as exploitation, dominance, or power over, repeat themselves on all scales and that when we break and change those patterns in our own lives, it has effects on the overall system. One way to think of this is Rupert Sheldrake’s idea of morphic resonance, a process whereby self-organizing systems inherit a memory or patterns from previous similar systems. If we change a pattern, for example from exploitation to reciprocity, these patterns can more easily be applied by other similar systems. Another way to think of this is through Karen O’Brien’s Quantum Social Change which merges quantum theory with social science to point out that every single one of us matters in the process of transforming our future. Insights from systems science support these strings of thought. And further topics that I see connected to this are Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious and idealism as described by Bernardo Kastrup.
The key question I want to explore is how I can sense (not just understand) how my actions impact the system. To do that, I will explore how to become-with, as Donna Haraway put it, theory. I intend to relate to the theoretical information (as by the brilliant minds mentioned above) not as an object or as something fixed, but as a living subject in a reciprocal relationship.
Each topic will be turned upside-down, looked at, inquired about, brought into context, connected, and disentangled during 108 daily’s in the form of a photo journal and a newsletter. I also hope to engage others during the experimentation phase to join me on the journey for some time. After the experimentation phase, the project will be presented in an exhibition to engage the broader public. I also want to summarise the results into a research paper and aspire to publish it as a possible learning journey for transformative education. Based on this, I hope to offer courses, particularly in the universities where I currently teach.